Discovering the Obvious: Our Lives as "The Folk"
Lesson 1 The Child: Games and Play Today and Yesterday In Louisiana
I loved to be alone. I'd go in the woods by myself a lot. I discovered a tree that turned like this and then it went up this way. I used to go sit on that. It was my tree. Nobody else knew about this tree, and it was like a horse. So I'd go sit on there and lay and just let my mind go. It would go to Bayou Pom Pom, a fictitious bayou in Cajun music where one can escape and get away from everything.
--Floyd Sonnier, Evangeline Parish
English Language Arts, Social Studies
Purpose of Lesson
This lesson uses the study of play and games to introduce students to definitions of folklore, folklife, folk group, to an awareness of themselves as tradition bearers of folk groups, and to the idea that everyone has folklife.
Lesson Objectives/Louisiana Content Standards, Benchmarks, and Foundation Skills
1. Students realize that everyone, including themselves, has folklore and belongs to various folk groups.
2. Students recognize how folklore is passed on and functions in people's lives.
3. Students study play traditions of their own and others' childhoods.
4. Students categorize folklife into types or genres.
5. Students explore Louisiana folklife on the Internet.
2-5 class periods
Drawing supplies, posterboard or chart paper for master lists. If your students will be doing fieldwork, you may need digital cameras, audio recorders, or video recorders in addition to notepads and pencils as well as appropriate fieldwork forms. Print out and duplicate any worksheets or rubrics that you will be using.
Background Information for the Teacher
All across Louisiana, children live, play, and go to school in widely differing landscapes: asphalt playgrounds, busy streets, bayous, prairies, and small town parks. They ride horseback in trail rides, play pick-up basketball and Friday night football, make mud pies and catch mud puppies, practice cheers, jump rope to complex rhymes, hunt squirrels, play hide and seek, join the second-line in city parades, and try their hand at rodeo. Their verbal artistry echoes from the Red River Valley to the Florida Parishes, New Orleans' Irish Channel to the bayous.
The folk groups of childhood forge strong memories and values that live on in us as we grow older. As children move out into the world from the folk groups of their immediate and extended families, they begin a lifelong process of moving in and out of groups that share special knowledge, language, customs and skills. The lore of childhood lives among many circles of folk groups defined by age, gender, school, neighborhood, religious affiliation, teams, clubs, hobbies, family, language, and ethnicity. Three-year-olds can already sing "Happy Birthday" at friends' parties. Seven-year-olds love the word play of riddles and jokes. Adolescents devote themselves to defining their personal styles and manipulating the latest teen slang.
We cast back to the visceral world of play and games, a common language for children the world over, to introduce the study of folklife to students because here they can readily find folklore in their own lives. By understanding their participation as teachers and learners in various folk groups, students begin to recognize that we are all bound up in generations of traditional cultural processes no matter how modern our lives.
This lesson is based on work that teacher and folklorist Elizabeth Simons has done with students. Find her extensive unit on play and games in Student Worlds, Student Words. On the playground or in the locker room, teachers hear students play games and play with words. Often recess sounds just as it did 20 or 40 years ago. Even young children like to look back to games they played when they were younger. By remembering and sharing games and memories of childhood play with your students, you will build a strong bridge to the study of folklife and deepen trust and understanding in the classroom. Look for and use examples of play throughout the year in literature, history, arts, music, math, science, and foreign languages. Play is the universal language of young people.
Review Unit I, which defines terms you will need: folklore, folklife, folk group. Remember some games from your own childhood to share with students. If using Venn diagrams, Venn Diagrams shows how to use them for comparisons. For Step 6, review Unit II.
Choose one or several of these assessment tools/opportunities to use with students during this lesson, and prepare the required materials:
4th Grade Activities
1. Help students to brainstorm the names of games they've played. Begin by writing the names of games you, the teacher, played as a child. Have the students call out games, then add them to the board or list. Don't forget card games or pretend play.
2. Begin compiling a class master list of "Games We Play and Know," or make a concept map by writing the names in ovals and connecting them to show the relationships.
3. When you've built an array of types of games, discuss who children play games with, where they play, when. Folk groups such as school playmates, neighbors, and relatives will emerge. Discuss this concept and begin to define these terms in the context of games: folk group, folklore, folklife, variants.
4. Discuss game governance, pointing out that there are "official" rules but also folk rules, negotiations over play, and the setting of boundaries specific to the group playing the game. For example, some families have their own traditions about card games or even commercial board games. Ask students to write a list of games they know either in class or as homework, using the Student Game List Worksheet.
5. Next class period, begin categorizing the class master list of games your students know, eliminating duplicates but including variations. For example, use the generic "tag" once but include variations such as flashlight tag or Marco Polo. You and the students may compile this list on computers, a notebook, or poster board.
6. Now ask students to interview an older family member or other adult using the Adult Game List Worksheet. See related activities in Unit VIII Lesson 3. A good way to prepare students for their interviews is to practice. Students can make a game of performing the two scripts from Unit II, How Not To Conduct an Interview and The Reluctant Guest. See Unit II for detailed fieldwork and interview preparation.
7. Have students compare games over time by using adults' birthplaces and birth years. Other ways to categorize games include by type, location, or participants. Ask students to compare the lists using a Venn diagram to find out what games appear on both students' and adults' lists and what games don't. Discuss the similarities and differences between age groups and how folklore passes over time (generation to generation) and space (from place to place).
8. Ask students to interview a guest such as a student from another grade level, a staff member or a parent about games and play as a group in the classroom. They should take notes and perhaps photograph the interviewee, and secure an oral or written release.
9. Have students synthesize all the information gathered into a report, essay, or multimedia program.
10. The Creole State Exhibit features several folk toys. Ask students to search for them online and describe what they find on the Louisiana Folk Toys Worksheet. They can then design computer slide shows.
11. Students can present their reports orally. Have them share what they liked about each student's presentation of their research. Explain that they are to make specific "I liked . . ." statements about such things as the accurateness of the facts, the relevance of the insights and comparisons, the student's voice modulation and expressiveness, clarity of speech, etc.
12. Evaluate the oral presentations by using the Oral Presentation Rubric.
4th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. As your class goes through the school year, look for ways to use your play research. Many games played today have been played for hundreds of years. You can research play in ancient history, literature, artwork, and music or find out how grown-ups play (see Unit VI and Unit VIII Lesson 3.)
2. Research more games in some of the books listed in Lesson Resources, such as One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children and American Children's Folklore.
3. Do any of the following activities:
4. Compare string games you know with those on the International String Figures Association website.
5. Watch Pizza, Pizza Daddy-O and list the jump rope rhymes the girls recite. Write the words to a rhyme that you know.
8th Grade Activities
1. Follow directions above for 4th graders but ask 8th graders to interview younger students instead of adults to compare master lists after completing their own student worksheets. Teenagers' play expresses their changing status and shifting identities through word play, daredevilry, fortune telling, slumber party customs, school traditions, surfing the Internet, and using social media.
2. Ask students to write about a memory of childhood play, describing the setting, players, rules, negotiations, boundaries, sounds, equipment, age group. They should conclude the essay by analyzing the folk elements of this game. Students should incorporate at least three of the following terms into the analysis: folk group, folklore, variant, motif. They may also illustrate the essay.
3. For related activities on student paperfolding and fortunetelling, see Unit VII Lesson 2 and Sample Fieldnotes: Teen Memories of Grade School Tradition.
8th Grade Explorations and Extensions
1. Conduct an online search for photos of children at play from different eras of American life in the American Memory Project, where thousands of photographs, songs, and documents have been digitized. Use the site's search tips to find images and songs. Many children's songs may be found in the John and Ruby Lomax Collection from a 1939 field trip through the South, including Louisiana. Songs include examples found today, such as "Little Sally Walker" or "Ring Around the Rosy" and more obscure songs, such as "Pop Found a Crawdad."
2. Finalize the research activities by writing a formal biography about one of the interviewees, either adults or younger students. Access the Rubric for Firsthand Biography to review performance elements that will be used to evaluate final products. Use the rubric as a guide while writing biographies, and to evaluate them.